I’m writing this tonight having read the opening chapter of ‘Five Go Off in a Caravan’ to my 6 year old. I feel like a world of possibilities is opening up to her. Books have always been amongst my favourite things. I was always the one who listed ‘reading’ as the first option under ‘hobbies’ on any form, CV or the like. My mum tells the story of me at 18 months reading a Rupert the Bear annual upside down. And there’s another infamous family story of the summer I spent speaking with a clipped English accent after reading, then watching ‘Swallows and Amazons’. My friend and I were the Amazons for a long summer holiday, wearing our copycat outfits of shorts, polo neck jumper and bobble hat, sitting on the roof of our garden Wendy House, pretending it was the Amazons’ boat, and fighting with our little sisters who were made to be the Swallows, whether they wanted to play or not. We were very far away from the idyllic Lake District, in a garden in Bangor, but our imaginations transported us to exciting and wonderful places.
All my life I’ve found friends in books, from my early adventures alongside Julian, Dick, Anne, George & Timmy the Dog, to unforgettable characters like Elizabeth Bennett, Miss Haversham, Cathy & Heathcliff, Huckleberry Finn. And I have wanted my daughters to find the same solace and escape that I have found in fiction, throughout my life.
Their early childhood has been filled with stories, and I have found new delights in the glorious characters thought up by Julia Donaldson – The Gruffalo and Gruffalo’s child are so poetic I can almost recite them by heart. I have cried over the simple beauties in Oliver Jeffers’ works, wept at Paper Dolls, and laughed at the hilarious antics of the bears who feature in many of David Walliams’ children’s books. We have gone on a Bear Hunt, shouted Peepo, delved into myths and fairytales and rhymed our way through hundreds of borrowed titles from our much loved libraries.
But for the last couple of years, my eldest has been learning to read. And any mother will tell you, that the early stages of phonics texts do not make for the most exciting or adventurous great literature. It’s been a struggle. All the repetition. The single syllables. The lack of any characterisation, story arcs or plot twists… But it has been worth it, because this week, my daughter took a library book to the sofa, settled down, opened it, and started to read. For herself, for pleasure, because that was how she wanted to spend her time. I almost cried I was so proud.
So that world of possibilities is about to open up to her, and she will find her own magic in the books she explores. I can’t wait to pass down the ‘Magic Faraway Tree’, the Harry Potter series, ‘His Dark Materials’, and try and get her to visit Mallory Towers, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and Lemony Snicket. And I’m sure she will find her own secret hideaways, aspirational characters, villains, and friends she will return to again and again. As the great Dr Seuss said “you can find magic wherever you look, sit back and relax, all you need is a book!”